Picky Eating

Scenario

Alicia, age three, is having a hard time at lunch. She is whining about the meal and refusing to eat the sandwich that is made with whole wheat bread, not the white bread she is used to. Last night she refused to try the casserole that was served at dinner. And this morning she would only drink her milk if it was in the pink cup. Mom is exhausted, frustrated, and desperate. Her reaction is to remake the sandwich with the bread Alicia is used to, but the nutrition class she attended last week taught her that whole wheat was better for her daughter’s health, so she is trying to make the change.

What should Alicia's mother do?

Picky Eating - Overview

Children like familiar things, things they do, see and hear many times. This provides children a sense of a secure and safe environment – one that is predictable and controllable. Environments that have too much change can be uncomfortable and stressful to children. As a result, most children naturally gravitate to things that are familiar. They also tend to do better in environments with a predictable structure and routine. All children are unique and some may like to try new things more than others.

Research finds that this tendency toward the familiar can be especially evident with food. “Food neophobia” – a tendency to avoid unfamiliar food – tends to peak around the age of 2 and is evident throughout early childhood as it gradually declines from age 2 to 6. It is believed that food neophobia is an evolutionary characteristic that keeps children safe from ingesting poisonous or harmful foods at a time when they are becoming more independent and exploring their worlds. Research on food neophobia finds that it can be overcome with the successful introduction of new foods to children. Once they have good experiences with the food, they tend to accept them in the future.

During this time of food neophobia children have also been known to begin rejecting foods that were once accepted and familiar. These two behaviors result in diets that are overall less healthy and have reduced variety. Since children’s dietary habits are largely formed during this same time period, helping parents learn how to respond to picky eating can result in long lasting effects on children’s diets.

Nutrition Educator Training

Read the Scenario at the top of this page.

Then read through the materials on Picky Eating: Overview, Application, and Tips.

Note the Additional Resources (but you do not need to read them all at this time).

Please RIGHT CLICK the link below and select "open in a new window".

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